One of my favorite genres is horror, and I’m always on the hunt for the next great horror novel. What I especially love are the horror books so well-written that they help me in the writing of my own work!
Below are five fantastic works of horror that might inform your writing as well…
1. The Shining, by Stephen King
The Shining is one of my favorite horror novels, and certainly, alongside Misery and The Stand, one of King’s finest works. He masterfully ratchets up the tension throughout the book, giving clear motivations to all his characters and making The Overlook Hotel a whole lot more than just a spookhouse. The book was published in 1977, and odds are King learned from Steven Spielberg’s 1975 film Jaws how to keep the monster hidden from his story for as long as possible. It isn’t until page 216, nearly halfway through the book, that the reader gets his first glimpse at something truly frightening — the old woman in the tub — and it isn’t until the last 100 pages that any real action or violence officially break out. What a masterpiece of horror this book is!
2. The Girl Next Door, by Jack Ketchum
The Girl Next Door is a terrific contemporary horror novel that shows the terror that can be committed not by a supernatural creature but by a nice-on-the-surface middle-aged lady. First, there’s an intelligent use of the double-I POV. Having David be an adult in his forties looking back adds a necessary bit of distance between him and the events, making the book even scarier because there’s a lack of emotion accompanying the prose. Additionally, Ketchum’s prose always serves the story well and adds to the tension and suspense. Ketchum’s use of quick sentences and brief paragraphs add to the vividness and realism of the horrific events much better than longer, lyrical sentences ever would have. Lastly, the use of eerie foreshadowing and almost non-step tension are used to superb extents in this novel of pure terror.
3. Psycho, by Robert Bloch
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho is one of my favorites and it was a thrill to finally read the original Bloch novel. I was worried Bloch’s writing might be old-fashioned and cheap, and yet I was surprised at how well developed his characters are, how effective the suspense is, how detailed much of the setting is. And despite my familiarity with the film, the suspense still works beautifully in the novel too, in how it’s driven both by plot twists and alternating POV chapters. Mary knows things Norman doesn’t know, and Norman knows things Sam doesn’t know, and so on, and Bloch using the alternating POV chapters to make the story richer than it would have been only from Norman’s perspective. This truly is a full-throttle horror novel worth taking a look at even if you’ve seen the film.
4. The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters
This is a fantastically spooky horror novel with many great qualities. I admired its attention to setting, and its focus on character rather than plot. Unlike many horror novels that focus on a series of scary moments and increasingly tense actions made by the main characters, The Little Stranger is always more concerned with making the reader care about the characters before anything bad happens to them. In addition, I was impressed with the compelling protagonist, Dr. Faraday. He is smart, capable, opinionated. But what I love about the character is how incredibly flawed he is. Waters also understands that the scariest moments in horror literature are often what you don’t see, and she takes that approach to every moment of terror in the book. There is scene after scene of a character thinking he or she is seeing a shadow across the room, something moving and making an eerie noise of some kind, and these are the moments where the book really shines in its horror.
5. The Girl from the Well, by Rin Chupeco
This YA novel offers that wonderful mix of quiet creepiness and action-packed terror, Chupeco rarely stopping to let the characters catch their breaths before moving on to the next horrifying moment. The eerie scenes leave a mark, and there’s a sense of mystery surrounding some of the early frightening moments, too. Her description of vindictive characters and her short, snappy prose of action keep the reader flipping through pages fast. I loved the POV choice, writing an entire novel from the perspective of a ghost, and the effective descriptions of setting and characters throughout. The horror prose is just startling in this, always specific, always well-constructed. I highly recommend this spooky little tale!